Regardless of where it's made -- from the Azores to the remote northeast province of Trás-os-Montes -- merchandise from all over Portugal ends up in Lisbon stores. But if you're going to a particular province, try to shop locally, where prices are often about 20% less than those in Lisbon. A general exception is the fabled handmade embroideries from Madeira; prices there are about the same as in Lisbon.
Products made of cork, which range from place mats to cigarette boxes, are good buys. Collectors seek out decorative glazed tiles. You also might find good buys in Lisbon in porcelain and china, in fishermen's sweaters from the north, and in fado recordings.
Intricately woven lightweight baskets make attractive, practical gifts. It's best to shop for handmade lace in Vila do Conde, outside Porto, where you get a better buy; many Lisbon outlets carry the lace as well.
Pottery is one of the best buys in Portugal, and pottery covered with brightly colored roosters from Barcelos is legendary. In fact, the rooster has become the virtual symbol of Portugal. Blue-and-white pottery is made in Coimbra and often in Alcobaça. Our favorite items come from Caldas da Rainha. They include yellow-and-green dishes in the shape of vegetables (especially cabbage), fruit, animals, and even leaves. Vila Real is known for its black pottery, and Aceiro is known for polychrome pottery. Some red-clay pots from the Alentejo region in the southeast are based on designs that go back to the Etruscans. Atlantis crystal is another good buy. Suede and leather, as in Spain, are also good buys. In the Algarve, handsome lanterns, fire screens, and even outdoor furniture are constructed from metal -- mainly copper, brass, and tin.
The best buy in Portugal, gold, is strictly regulated by the government. Jewelers must put a minimum of 19.2 karats into the jewelry they sell. Filigree jewelry in gold and silver is popular in Lisbon and elsewhere in Portugal. The art of ornamental openwork made of fine gold or silver wire dates to ancient times. The most expensive items -- often objets d'art -- are fashioned from 19 1/4-karat gold. Filigree is often used in depictions of caravels. Less expensive trinkets are often made of sterling silver, sometimes dipped in 24-karat gold.
Portugal is also famous for Arraiolos carpets, fine woolen rugs that have earned an international reputation. You can visit the little town of Arraiolos, in Alentejo. According to legend, Moorish craftsmen expelled from Lisbon in the early 16th century first made the rugs. The patterns were said to imitate Persian designs. Some Arraiolos carpets eventually find their way into museums.
Many stores in Portugal will crate and ship bulky objects. Any especially large item, such as a piece of furniture, should be sent by ship. Every antiques dealer in Lisbon has lists of reputable maritime shippers. For most small and medium-size shipments, air freight isn't much more expensive than sending the items by ship. TAP, the Portuguese airline, has a separate toll-free U.S. number for cargo inquiries (tel. 800/221-78-90). Once in Lisbon, you can contact TAP to make air-shipping arrangements for larger purchases by calling the Lisbon cargo department offices at tel. 21/841-63-36. It's open Monday through Friday from 9am to 6:30pm.
Remember that all your air-cargo shipments will need to clear Customs in the United States, Canada, or your home country. This involves some additional paperwork and perhaps a trip to the airport near where you live. It's usually best to hire a commercial Customs broker to do the work for you.